Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's the economy, stupid

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving and, for state employees like me, this year the day meant more than just feeling bloated and planning creative ways to use up all that cranberry sauce. This year, it meant taking an unpaid vacation day (i.e. a furlough day) to help address the state’s fiscal crisis in my own infinitesimally small way. You see, the State of Connecticut is projecting a deficit this year of almost $400 million, and is counting on its many thousands of employees to help plug those pesky budget holes by taking a few uncompensated days off before the end of the year.

Being loyal and humble public servants, we (my pals Eric and Scott are also state employees) decided that since we had to furlough, we might as well furlough in style. Breathe it in deeply and embrace it. Fill it with activities as far removed from work as possible.

Therefore, after a vigorous morning hike (on the blue trail) at Sleeping Giant State Park in Hamden, CT, we got down to the serious business of bottling our Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale and brewing a batch of High Octane Furlough Stout.

Wallace Fogbottom's Strong Ale (8.4% ABV)

You can read about Wallace Fogbottom's conception here. We brewed the batch on August 29, pitched extra yeast (dry) on September 25, and bottled it on November 27. Initially, we planned to bottle it closer to Halloween, but laziness and the challenge of matching three schedules kept pushing the date back. Our brew had a hefty O.G. of 1.099 and an F.G. of 1.040, meaning the ABV came out to a respectable 8.4%. Fogbottom was based (ever so loosely) on Anchor's Old Lighthouse in the Fog Barleywine Ale, which has an ABV of 8.8%. The recipe we used gave us a target O.G. of 1.099 (bull's eye!) and F.G. of 1.032. With different yeast (i.e. a little more care), I think we would have gotten there. In any case, the green beer tasted great. Strong and sweet, though with a little less hop bite than I would have liked. Once this strong ale ages for another month or so, I think it will be a pretty special brew to hunker down with on a cold Christmas Eve.

High Octane Furlough Stout

Our Furlough Stout is based on a recipe for Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout from Charlie Papazian's book, Microbrewed Adventures. Our grain bill differs slightly from his insofar as we had to substitute the 10 ounces of crystal malt in his recipe for 7 ounces of Munich + 3 ounces of Vienna that we had on hand. To his recipe, we're planning to add 2 quarts of espresso steeped water after fermentation for a little umph!


4.5 lbs amber malt (3.5 pounds extract; 1 pound dry)

8.0 oz wheat malt (dry)

2.0 lbs Briess 2-row pale malt (crushed)

1.5 lbs British roasted barley (crushed)

12.0 oz organic rolled oats (whole)

7 oz Munich malt (crushed)

3 oz Vienna malt (crushed)

1.0 ounce Magnum hops pellets (14.4% alpha) - 90 minute

0.5 ounce Hallertau hops pellets (3.0% aplha) - 30 minute

1.0 ounce Cascade hops pellets (7.3% alpha) - 1 minute

1 tablet Irish moss - 10 min

Irish ale yeast

Target O.G. 1.061

Target F.G. 1.016

Target ABV 5.7%

Target IBU +/- 44

Actual O.G. 1.052

Post fermentation, we'll be adding 0.5 lb ground espresso beans steeped in 2 quarts water.

We began by bringing 5 quarts of distilled water to 180° F, adding the crushed grains (Briess malt, British roasted barley, Munich malt, Vienna malt, and rolled oats), stirring to distribute the heat evenly, and turning off the heat. Over the next 45 minutes, the heat in the pot stabilized at about 150° F. The consistency in the pot was that of super hearty oatmeal. In fact, Eric claimed (after a few beers) that he planned to save the spent grains and eat them for breakfast the following week.

We then brought the temperature of the grains back up to around 167° F and strained them into a second pot, rinsing them with water that we heated in a small saucepan to 170° F. At this point, we added enough water to achieve 2.5 gallons in the pot, added our amber malt, wheat malt, and Magnum (90 minute) hops, turned up the heat, and turned our attention to Wii Sports. We brought the pot to a boil and reduced the heat at around 190° F.

An hour later, I'd lost every game we played (as usual), and we added our Hallertau (30 minute) hops. With ten minutes to go (80 minutes after adding the amber/wheat malt and Magnum hops), we added a tablet of Irish moss to help clarify, and nine minutes later we killed the heat and added our Cascade (one minute) hops.

We strained the brew into our fermenter, adding enough water to hit 5.5 gallons, and dropped in the wort chiller. Once we hit 70° F, we pitched our Irish ale yeast and sealed the lid. One week until we re-rack. Two weeks until we bottle and add the coffee. Then presto! Our High Octane Furlough Stout will be ready just in time for Christmas!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Christmas in Oktoberfest

Last month, we rang in our fifth Christmas in October. That’s right, Christmas in October. This tradition, which admittedly hasn’t spread a whole lot further than our immediate families, began way back in the fall of 2005. Danger Kitten and I were living down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, working hard as public educators, and beginning to suspect that our relationship might outlast our two-year commitment to Teach For America...

Case in point: at the mall on a balmy September Saturday, I found an almost-too-good-to-be-true deal on a Kitchen Aid mixer and snatched it up faster than a Cajun on a crawfish. Nothing says I'm in this for the long haul like a counter-top mixer (with the exception, perhaps, of a mortgage). Danger Kitten had been intimating for some time how much she wanted, nay needed, a mixer, and this one was even the right color -- majestic yellow.

As the owner of an insatiable sweet tooth, I’ll be the first to admit that this purchase wasn’t entirely altruistic. As I stood in the store, gazing at the mixer, I imagined an unyielding parade of cookies, cakes, and other such delights marching down the counter and onto my plate. I knew right then that the sooner I gifted this little machine, the sooner I’d be sated!

Therefore, I immediately set to teasing my future bride with hints that her Christmas gift was already purchased, and that she was really, REALLY going to like it. After several weeks of this, she announced that she, too, had gone Christmas shopping, and that perhaps it would be best to exchange gifts early in order to end the suspense. I heartily agreed, and the holiday was born. We pulled out our decorations, loaded some holiday music on the iPod, and celebrated an impromptu Christmas, in the middle of October.

Celebrating our first Christmas in October, down on the bayou.

This year, Christmas in October happened to be scheduled exactly two weeks after the bottling of our Oktoberfest homebrew: Lavoratory Choctoberfest (which I first wrote about here). Given Danger Kitten's work schedule, and the fact that I was unemployed at that point, I had total autonomy over the planning and execution of the event. So it was decided that (a) we'd have a German themed celebration and (b) there would be lots of Oktoberfest. Here's a little taste of what we ate:

Appetizers: liverwurst from Moon In The Pond Farm in Sheffield, MA; rye bread (which I baked); cheddar cheese; and apple slices.

Dinner: chicken schnitzel; spaetzle (German egg noodles which I made with a little help from my stepfather); and brussel sprouts in browned butter.

Dessert: anisplatzen and pfeffernuse (German Christmas cookies); and pumpkin ice cream.

I planned the meal with an emphasis on advanced food prep, which meant I'd be free to enjoy my Oktoberfest in a state of unrushed bliss, rather than hustling about the kitchen like a mad man. The only cooking that needed to be done at supper time was the dredging and frying of the schnitzel, the boiling of the spaetzle, and the browning of the brussel sprouts. In the words of Charlie Papazian, I was able to relax, not worry, and have a homebrew!

My stepfather, Michael, happily stirring the spaetzle.

The blind tasting, which preceded dinner, included the following Oktoberfests:

And, of course, our very own Choctoberfest.

Our illustrious lineup, brought to you by Dario's unnamed cousin.

The panel of tasters included myself, Danger Kitten, my father-in-law and his girlfriend, and my mother (for the first three samples) and stepfather. Grandpa opted for his usual -- Beefeaters gin, neat, with one cube.

The beauty of this panel was its inexperience. No one knew much about head retention or IBUs; instead, the focus was on taste, appearance and overall impression. It was a lot of fun tasting and discussing each beer as we went. And because I masked the bottles early in the day, the only beer I knew for certain during the tasting was my own (#4).

The blind tasting, served up with liverwurst, apples, cheddar and rye

The main takeaway for me from the tasting was that no one was able to identify the home brew in the lineup by taste, although Michael did eventually notice the haze in sample #4. It is my hope that someday my home brew will stand out from the crowd for its singular excellence. But, at this point, I'm just glad it blended in with its commercial peers.

In fact, the Choctoberfest (named after Eric's chocolate lab, Wallace) ended up one of the highest rated among the bunch. The big winners in our unprofessional tasting were Blue Point, Weyerbacher, and the Choctoberfest. Some of the comments offered on our beer included: yeasty; great aroma; light amber, cloudy color; very drinkable (which is always good); sweetly balanced; and spicy flavor.

Fast forward to today (November 21), and it's been a month-and-a-half since bottling and three weeks since Christmas in October. Since I'm finally almost ready to publish this post, it seems like an opportune time for another tasting! Therefore, without further ado...

The sweet nectar of fall - Lavatory Choctoberfest!

Lavatory Choctoberfest (4.1% ABV)
Eric's Kitchen
West Haven, CT

Brew Date: August 29, 2009
Bottling Date: October 3, 2009
Tasting Date: November 21, 2009

Appearance: Copper in color. A creamy, hazy body. Thick head with fat bubbles.

Aroma: Bright, spicy, yeasty, malty.

Taste: Heifeweizenish? Yeasty with hints of clove. Spicy. A smooth, malty flavor. Mild bitterness. Tastes Oktoberfest!

Overall Impression: Hands down the best beer I've been party to. I was a bit more critical of the beer at the Christmas in Octoberfest tasting a few weeks ago than most of my guests (I've always been my own toughest critic); but in this brewer's opinion, the beer has really opened up since then. Very balanced. Great color. Great flavor. I'll be taking a six-pack to Thanksgiving next week, and I look forward to sharing it with the uncles! Should be fun.